In the Penal Colony Questions and Answers
by Franz Kafka

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What is the main theme in the short story, "In the Penal Colony"?

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There are several intertwining themes that run through the Franz Kafka short story, "In the Penal Colony." Most of them concern the way in which justice is administered on the island. The prisoners have few rights and are punished--by execution only--without the benefit of a defense or a trial; accusation by word of mouth is sufficient for capital punishment by the execution machine. Once a prisoner is accused, it is not possible for him to be declared not guilty; an accused man is automatically guilty and set for execution. Any crime, major or minor, receives the same punishment--except for one slight variance: Each condemned man has their separate crime tattooed onto their body by the execution machine. Despite the seeming absurdity of this anti-judicial process, it has become a popular one with the upper echelon of prison administrators.

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